By Tracey Bond, New Zealand Herald, 11/12/2017

South Africa has enough magical experiences to last a lifetime writes Tracey Bond.

Seals resting outside Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town

South Africa has so much to offer it is worth taking your time to explore as much of the country as possible: from being awoken on safari by the roar of a lion to dining on spectacular seafood overlooking the place where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet.

Cape Town

Cosmopolitan Cape Town is dominated by Table Mountain, which towers over the picturesque squares and colonial architecture. Cape Town is the only city in the world where the sun rises and sets over the ocean.

What to do: You can hike up Table Mountain if you have the time and the energy, or you can take the revolving cable car up to the summit. Either way you’ll be rewarded with stunning views.

Be aware that the weather can change quickly and bad weather can close the route for safety reasons at any time. Look out for dassies – a close relative of the elephant which is also known as a rock badger, they like to sun themselves on rocky outcrops at the top.

At Green Square, stop for some souvenirs (bargaining is expected) and take in the architecture and history in the area.

Take a stroll along the V&A Waterfront – a thriving area of bars, restaurants, shopping and museums. If you get there early enough you might be lucky enough to see seals frolicking in the harbour.

This is where you get the ferry over to Robben Island.

How to get around: A hop-on-hop-off bus takes in most of the sites in the area.
Where to eat: For food with a 360-degree view of Cape Town head along to The Pot Luck Club, with its innovative sharing menu divided into five flavours: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami.

Where to stay: The Silo is a seriously swanky hotel down by the V&A Waterfront set in a former grain silo. No two rooms have the same decor, as each one takes its theme from a piece of artwork.

Where to party: Bars and restaurants along the aptly-named Long St where people gather from Wednesdays onwards to hang out into the early hours.

Best place to take Instagram: Bo Kaap with its cute, multi-coloured houses datingfrom the late 1600s.

Around Cape Town

Cape Town is also a great jumping off point for winelands, safari and amazing coastal drives.

Explore the series of bays below Table Mountain and hire a deck chair or beach bed at Camps Bay, grab a bite to eat at one of the many beachside restaurants and people watch.

Take a trip to Cape Point via Chapmans Peak Drive – a stunning route that heads along the winding road from Hout Bay.

Make sure to stop off at Boulder’s Bay, home to a colony of endangered African Penguins and a conservation success story. From just two breeding pairs in 1982, more than 3000 birds have made this sheltered bay their home. A series of boardwalks allow visitors to get to within metres of the birds as they go about their daily life.

Carry on to the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet. Entrance to this part of the Table Mountain National Park is 135 Rand (NZ$13.50) for adults, once inside keep an eye out for baboons, eland and Impala.

Where to eat: Two Oceans Restaurant, Cape of Good Hope: With amazing views over False Bay this award-winning restaurant specialises in sushi and seafood and is the perfect place to look out over the ocean. On a sunny day, try to get a table outside on the expansive wooden deck.

Best place to take Instagram: Boulder’s Beach: what’s not to love about penguins?

Hoedspruit

Part of the Greater Kruger National Park, Hoedspruit is the gateway to the Kapama private game reserve and home to 42 species of mammals including the big five: lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros and the leopard.

What to do:

Go on safari and soak in the sights and sounds of the savannah. Enjoy sundowners in breath-taking locations; get a birds-eye view of the wildlife in the park by taking a hot-air balloon ride over the majestic Drakensberg mountain range. Learn about the part conservation plays in the lives of cheetahs and watch the macabre ballet of vultures feeding at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre.

Where to stay: One of the all-inclusive lodges in the reserve. For next-level luxury check out Camp Jabulani.

Best place to take Instagram: It will be harder to decide what not to take a photo of (although putting your phone or camera away and absorbing the experience is highly recommended).

Johannesburg

The sprawling metropolis of Johannesburg is a city in the midst of coming to terms with its history and reinventing itself.

What to do: Head to Vilakazi St in Soweto and visit Mandela House to get a glimpse into the life of former President Nelson Mandela during the apartheid era from 1946 to 1962.

For a different view of Soweto take a bike tour.

Head around the corner to The Shack, one of the last shebeens in town and try the umqombothi (a traditional brew) and chat with the locals.

Adrenaline junkies can bungee off the top of the cooling towers at Chaf Pozi.

Where to stay: Attached to a big shopping centre and within a stone’s throw of restaurants is Sandton Sun.

Where to eat: The Butcher Shop in Sandton features every meat known to man. Make sure to leave room for the malva, a traditional steamed honey sponge served with custard.

Where to party: Chaf Pozi in the heart of Soweto is the place to go to eat braai, drink local beer and learn some dance moves from the locals.

Best place to take Instagram: Every Saturday, Arts on Main in the suburb of Maboneng is filled with amazing treats, great coffee, local artists and makers. The vibrant market overflows on to the surrounding streets which house stalls of second-hand books, handicrafts and souvenirs.

Durban

From rolling green hills dusted with sugar cane to catching some waves, Durban is justifiably known as the sunshine state.

What to do: Spend some time at North Beach Pier watching the daredevil surfers leaping off the edge to paddle out to the break. If you fancy catching a wave you can hire equipment on the beach front.

Take a town ship tour to learn about the history of Durban and how the local town ships were formed and learn some Zulu.

Visit Mahatma Gandhi’s house: Gandhi lived in South Africa for 11 years; you can visit his house and the site of his printing press and learn about his legacy.

What to eat: Try shisa nyama – a meal eaten using hands which consists of braai (grilled meats), pap (polenta) and chakalaka (spicy vegetable stew).

Another great South African dish, which is credited with being created in Durban, is Bunny Chow: chicken or mutton curry served inside a loaf of bread. The bread soaks up the sauce and is very moreish.

Best place to take Instagram: Umhlanga, where you will find the highly instagrammable Oyster Box Hotel (both in terms of architecture and delicious food). The hotel has its very own lighthouse and a short walk away is the impressive, wind-swept Whale Bone Pier.

Where to party: The restaurants and bars along Florida Rd are the place to be seen in Durban.

Where to stay: There are plenty of hotels to choose from along Durban’s beach front, including the Garden Court Marine Court, which puts on a mean breakfast buffet. For a touch of luxury, stay at the Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga.

Safety

As with any trip abroad, use your common sense; listen to locals in the larger metropolitan areas, who will know which areas are safe. Most of the popular tourist areas like V&A Waterfront in Cape Town have safety officers and in other destination cities such as Durban, there is a very visible police presence around the beach. Leave your valuables at home but if you do take them, make use of the safe in your hotel room.

Getting there

Applying for a South African visa in New Zealand can be time-consuming and will require a visit to either Wellington or Auckland. Most airlines will travel via Australia, which can make for a long trip.

Tipping

Tipping is expected in South Africa. Expect to add between 10 and 15 per cent to your bill. On safari 100 Rand (NZ$10) per ranger is a good guide. Be wary of your bags at airport, porters will expect and ask for a tip, even if you didn’t want your bags carrying in the first place.

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